Friday, September 27, 2013

Sensory Strategies to Start the School Year

The start of a new school year brings together all sorts of kiddos with all sorts of unique personalities.  Some kiddos are happy to sit still and listen to the teacher while others seem to have a very hard time sitting still, following directions, and staying focused.  These kiddos might be a bit impulsive and might be sensitive to touch or noises in the room.  Often, these are not kiddos who are trying to be a behavior problem (though it sure might seem like that!); they might have be displaying characteristics of sensory processing disorder (also known as SPD).  A few simple sensory strategies incorporated into the classroom can be ever so helpful for these kiddos and will make the classroom run much more smoothly.  In fact, many sensory strategies are helpful to ALL of the might even notice that you use some of them yourself!
  • Get Movin'!  Before you expect kiddos to sit for group time or a class lesson, have everyone stand up for a short movement break guided by the teacher.  For example, "Stomp your feet; clap your hands; reach way up; touch your toes; turn around then touch your nose; reach once more; give a clap; sit down with hands in your lap."  This will take under a minute but provides an outlet to MOVE before being expected to sit still.
  • Deeeep Breathing:  Deep breathing helps to calm the nervous system and is another great exercise for kiddos to learn (and adults!).  For kiddos, you can ask them to hold up their "candles" (5 fingers), take a big breath, and blow out all of the candles as they put each finger down.  If needed, find the candles on the other hand and repeat.
  • Water Bottles:  Water bottles with a straw-like mouthpiece require sucking to get a drink and this is also a calming technique.  In addition, it keeps kids hydrated!  If you're worried about the water bottle "sweating" on the desk, the bottle can be placed in a sock that keeps water off the desk.
  • Chewing Gum:  Now you think I'm crazy, right?!  Once you establish the RULES for having gum in the classroom (such as "It stays in your mouth; when it comes out of your mouth, it goes straight to the trash can....") you'll be AMAZED at how chewing gum helps kiddos to calm.  Chewing is an "organizer" for your nervous system and helps to calm.  The same can be achieved with a StarBurst or other chewy foods.  
  • Fidget Toys:  Giving kiddos something to hold in their hands when listening to the teacher helps to keep their fingers out of their mouths and noses and can be a big help in keeping attention.  Toys such as Koosh balls, stress balls, etc are easy to store in a basket and can be given out as needed in class.  
  • Weighted Lap Pad:  You might have heard of a "weighted snake"---a soft weighted "tube" that can be placed on the student's lap when sitting.  It offers proprioceptive input that helps the kiddo to sit still.  These can be bought in therapy catalogs or better yet, make your own out of a little bit of material filled with rice.  My daughter made these cute snakes you see below!

  • Headphones:  Some kiddos simply cannot block out the classroom noise (and there might be a lot of it!), so you can offer noise cancelling headphones that can be used during work time or whenever the kiddo feels the need to diminish some of the distractions and noises.  
Hopefully with some sensory strategies, creativity, and maybe a little extra patience, you'll find that it's not so difficult to design a learning environment that works for all students!

Jen Dermody, OTR/L

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Kiddo at Jen's OT For Kids!

Well, my last posting was on July 18th and just a few days after that, there was some really big news at our household.  I'm proud to announce that my son Liam Matthew was born July 26th!  Let me explain that to call this sweet baby a surprise would be a bit of an other son is 15 and my daughter is 16 1/2!  There were no obvious signs of this pregnancy until my pants weren't fitting (thought I was gaining weight now that I'm in my 40's!) and I did not find out I was pregnant until I was 17 weeks along.  CRAZY!  Thankfully I live a healthy lifestyle, don't drink or smoke, I exercise daily and take a multi-vitamin, however I was 42 years old when I found out and a bit nervous.  My other children arrived at 35 and 36 weeks, so wouldn't ya know this little guy ALSO came at 36 weeks and was even born on his big brother's birthday! He is a sweet little soul and we are grateful for his good health.  This has been just a bit of an adjustment at this house but it's all good!  Liam is giving me all kinds of ideas for new postings as I start all over on the child development train~~oh, this poor child of a therapist who is always being observed on a developmental checklist by his dear ol' mom.  None the less, you're bound to see more pics of him as he gets to be the model of fine motor activities, but here is the first glimpse.  Pretty cute, huh? We sure think so!

Jen Dermody, OTR/L (aka, MOM!)